Research has repeatedly shown that strong home-school connections contribute to positive outcomes for children, both in the early years and beyond (U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, 2016) . And it’s common practice for early childhood programs to share information with families.
But, to what extent are early childhood programs partnering with families in meaningful ways that equip families with the knowledge and tools about their child’s development that contribute to these better outcomes for children?
What is the difference between INCLUDING and ENGAGING families?
Because of children’s young age, families will always be included in their child’s education. Families frequently receive communication about their child’s daily activities or even their child’s development. However, when families are included rather than engaged, communication largely flows in one direction, from schools to families, and information is simply presented to families.
Engaging with families is a deeper practice. Family engagement means that schools and families have established a reciprocal, collaborative relationship where both schools and families have a crucial role in supporting children’s development (Halgunseth, 2009). When schools truly engage families, they invest in building unique, two-way partnerships with each family rather than applying a “one-size-fits-all” model to all families. This can look like:
- Asking family members about their goals for their child
- Integrating learning from families about children into their classroom
- Involving families in school-wide decisions
Why does family engagement matter in ECE?
1. Early childhood is a critical time for children AND families
Establishing strong partnerships during a child’s early years are essential. Research has shown that children whose families are more involved in their child’s early education enter Kindergarten more prepared to succeed (Mantzicopoulos, 2003). And for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who are more likely to enter kindergarten behind their same-age peers, strong school-family partnerships has been shown to mitigate some of these risk factors (Weiss, 2006).
Children’s early years are also when “parents’ beliefs about their children’s abilities are shaped” (Weiss, 2006, p.2) as well as parents impressions and beliefs about school. Investing in strong partnerships during these early years helps ensure families are actively involved when their child enters Kindergarten and beyond.
2. Families are children’s teachers too!
Starting from birth, families are children’s first teachers. And when a child enters an early childhood program, families continue to play an important role in supporting their child’s development through how they support their child’s development at home. Research has shown that when families extend learning at home, children demonstrate “improved motivation to learn, attention, task persistence, and receptive vocabulary” (Weiss, 2006, p.4). Through effective family partnerships, teachers can provide suggestions to help families be highly effective teachers at home.
How can ECE programs partner with and empower families?
1. Scaffold and support at-home learning
Remind families that learning happens through everyday moments and interactions, like when we're washing dishes, folding laundry, or even making the bed. Encourage families to create an environment at home that values learning in everyday moments and emphasizes problem-solving (Weiss, 2006). Provide families with easy tips and strategies they can use in conversation with their child.
2. Include families in assessment
Ensure families should receive frequent updates about how their child is progressing. Encourage parents and caregivers to document their child’s learning moments at home (Weiss, 2006). If you're using COR Advantage and the Kaymbu platform, families can submit this documentation directly into the system through their phone at home. Invite families to be active participants in goal-setting conversations for their child at regular intervals and encourage families to set goals for children at both school and home (NAEYC, 2019).
3. Offer non-traditional ways for families to engage with schools
Research has shown that schools that offer non-traditional ways for families to be involved, beyond family conferences, see increased levels of parent engagement (Weiss, 2006, p.3). These might include:
- Family discussion groups to encourage collaboration between families
- Lending libraries to share resources and books between families
- Home visits (or in 2020, socially-distant, outdoor meet-ups)
- Encouraging parents or caregivers to lead a virtual story time
- Bringing each family's culture into the classroom
4. Don’t let language be a barrier
In order to ensure that all families are invited into partnership with the school, encourage families to communicate in their preferred language. Translate all communication sent to families, including information about events, updates on a child’s development, or suggestions on how to extend learning at home. Additionally, ensure that families can share information with schools in their preferred language of communication. If you’re using the Kaymbu platform, take advantage of the built-in translation to allow your communication and documentation to be translated into over 100 different languages.
Partnering with families in meaningful and engaging ways will not only lead to a more robust educational experience for your students but help ensure children and families are set up for success as children move beyond early childhood programs.
Halgunseth, Linda (2009). Diverse Families, and Early Childhood Education Programs: An Integrated Review of the Literature. NAEYC. https://www.buildinitiative.org/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Family%20Engagement%20Halgunseth.pdf
Mantzicopoulos, Panayota. (2003). Flunking Kindergarten after Head Start: An Inquiry into the Contribution of Contextual and Individual Variables. Journal of Educational Psychology. 95. 268-278.
Weiss, H., M. Caspe, & M.E. Lopez. (2006). Family Involvement in Early Childhood Education. Family Involvement Makes a Difference 1 (Spring). www.hfrp.org/publications-resources/browse-ourpublications/family-involvement-in-early-childhood-education
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2016). Policy Statement on Family Engagement from the Early Years to the Early Grades. https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/earlylearning/files/policy-statement-on-family-engagement-executive-summary.pdf
About the Author
Anna Marrs is a former early literacy curriculum developer and a former certified teacher in North Carolina. She holds a Master's in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and now works on the School Partnerships team at Kaymbu.